Saturday, November 28, 2009

Who Wants to Boogie with Baby '37?

Midwestern people are the nicest anywhere. They’re like Indians, but fewer of them want your money or steal your stuff. Seriously, though. The guy at the front desk of this motel greeted me friendily. Then he pushed his black lab’s snout back through the sliding glass door behind the counter as the dog mumble/growled something, prompting the owner to inform me, “He thinks he can talk.” Later, when I re-entered the lobby to ask about a nearby store, the clerk called me by my name, having remembered it from my credit card, and politely told me that the convenience store next door was open for another fifteen minutes.

In other news, the Iowan freeway has more stars than I’ve ever before seen. I checked again at the motel, and the stars weren’t as many or as bright, but on the highway, when I gazed out the window, I saw more and brighter stars than I’d ever seen.

It’s actually kind of lonely spending New Year’s in a motel room with the only entertainment being the epic comic duo that was Kathy Griffin’s playing the thirteen-year-old bully trying to scandalize the polite, endlessly patient grandmother who looked suspiciously like Anderson Cooper. As I sat there alone, I wondered if I was having one of those climax-of-movie moments where people realize that everything they’ve felt was important in life had been a terrible selfish miscalculation. But then I thought, sure, I’m lonely, but that’s why Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper are here. I also wondered why it was that Anderson Cooper covered terrible large-scale tragedies and New Year’s Eve.

Driving along the Illinois highway, I gazed to my left and saw the most amazing sight—the bright sun behind wide-angle clouds being puffed out of a short-squat smokestack beyond a field of green ‘neath an otherwise blue sky. That may not sound like much (though I think we can safely say it was rather impressively rendered), but imagine this—imagine if there were a jar of marshmallow fluff—but not just any jar of marshmallow fluff. This jar of marshmallow fluff has lived a life so admirable, so worthwhile, so selfless, that it without a doubt merited beatification. And imagine if this marshmallow fluff were minding its own business one day, coming home from work on the A train, and all of a sudden, it steps onto the platform, and some desperate, drug-crazed kid with a gun sticks a snubnose in its side and whispers, loud enough to communicate his unyielding assuredness and soleness of purpose, but not loud enough for any of the other commuters to hear (it’s a loud station, after all), “Gimme all your cash, buddy,” and Marshmallow Fluff, not having any pockets, as his only attire is a jar, and therefore opting to carry only a single credit card (and his subway pass, of course) saying, “I’m sorry. All I have is this credit card. And this subway pass, of course. They’re both yours. Here,” hands them over. But the drug-crazed kid isn’t logical. He can see that marshmallow fluff has nowhere to stash his cash—has no cash cache, as it were, but he doesn’t realize it. He doesn’t make the connection. All he knows is he took a risk, thought he’d get some dough out of it, and it pretty much failed. He’s mad. He’s scared. He’s downright crazy. He pulls the trigger, putting a bullet through the jar and square into Marshmallow Fluff’s side at point-blank range.

This is no flesh wound. There’s no obvious reason for hope here. This isn’t even anything from which hope could be excavated—Fluff’s not gonna make it. And, soon, all-too-soon, as the kid backs up, apoplectic over what he’s done, scarcely believing his confused anger of a second ago could have made him do such a thing—turned him into a killer—and is jumped upon and taken down by a dozen or so commuters who had been standing behind him, all he—all anyone—can do is watch as the soul, the saintly, the unblemished, the white-as-his-mortal-guise soul leaves Fluff’s earthly jar and ascends upward, through the exhaust grate, up, away from the street, and alone, solitary, through a bright, sky-blue sky, his work in this life complete, his work in the next just begun—only that could begin to approximate this sight I espied along the Illinois highway.

Friday, November 27, 2009


I left just in time to see the long sunset from the turnpike, casting the leafless trees in silhouette and looking lovely and kind of lonesome above the long flat stretches of land between Pittsburgh and Ohio. As I passed Lordstown, OH, I wondered what it’s like to be a dog there. Passing Ohio turnpike exits for Toledo and Ann Arbor, MI, I learned, in between French-language songs, that St. Boniface is Manitoba’s Francophone capital—knowledge that I had somehow navigated my whole life without. Here’s a question—how come people fluent in Spanish who grow up in the southern U.S. speak English with American accents, but people who appear on the St. Boniface radio station—people who, I assume, grew up in Manitoba—have funny accents that are distinctly funnier than those of regular non-Quebecois Canadians? Huh? (This is not a question of why Quebecois sound like they can’t speak English—the answer to that is because they can’t, the result of a conscious choice they all make and goal they all have.)

I stopped for the night when, just having entered Indiana territory, the rain began freezing on my windshield—something I’d never before seen. I pulled off the turnpike through an automated tollbooth. I saw signs for several chains, all of which I’d previously heard of. I decided to turn left, toward the Super 8 and the Holiday Inn Express, as opposed to right, where lay the Holiday Inn and another more expensive-sounding hotel. As I reached the intersection, I saw on my right a Motor Inn (or something similar) and, realizing that it hadn’t even warranted space on the lodgings-at-this-exit sign, pictured the myriad visitors who no doubt already knew about and chose that hotel in preference to the name brands, thus rendering a sign on the highway unnecessary—namely, cockroaches. This thought made me confident in my decision to choose either the Express or the 8. I came to the Express first, and, looking down the road and seeing only pitch blackness, choose it I did. I walked into the lobby and saw an eating area that looked surprisingly non-express. This made me wondered if the Express was ritzier than I had anticipated. Then I saw the pool and knew I’d been had. What’s “express” about a pool? What do they have at the non-Express Holiday Inn? Maybe the Express is actually better. Perhaps the normal one lacks the quick service and straight, easy-to-navigate hallways of the Express, instead possessing a stiff-jointed staff walking the labyrinthine halls of a layout reminiscent of the hedges in “The Shining.” Maybe that’s why it’s worth the $100 the clerk took off of my credit card as I took deep breaths—approximately 3.3333333 times as much as the price I saw advertised at some roadside motel a few hours back. Maybe that’s the problem—I’d entered a hotel when I needed a motel. Is the 8 a motel? I should have shopped around, but, as I said, it was beginning to freezing rain, and the 8 was well camouflaged even, I assume, for a car that didn’t have a second windshield made of ice. Oh well, at least I can get some laps in tomorrow, I thought. The water must be chilled by an expensive, high-tech cooling machine, to expedite my swim and thus earn the basin inclusion in this temple of temporal attention?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ganpati and me

In the street, the voice of an adolescent boy cried out pro-Ganpati* chants like a misplaced prepubescent Cambodian guerrilla leader. The fire crackers made you fear there’d been a bombing; the subsequent approach of drumming kind of made you wish there had. Why did they so love this creature? Where lay the appeal of this pachyderman? I had to know.

*Yet another name for the elephant-headed god “Ganesh," or “Ganesha,” aka “Ganapati,” “Vinayaka,” and “Pillaiyar”

At the Ganpati lot, people were strapping to the tops of their cars beautiful Ganpatis of all shapes and sizes—some reclining like elephantine Mata Haris, others sitting straight and regal. I searched through a dense forest of shiny idols. Finally, I espied the perfect one—about 18 inches high, sitting Indian*-style, staring out wisely, nobly, and melancholically, an elephant bull who somewhat recalled his uncle Sitting.



I placed the Ganpati on the counter in front of the old shop owner and reached for my wallet. As I went to pay the man for the god, I caught a hint of anxiety in his eye. I squinted and furrowed my brow in return.

“Ganpati come with responsibility,” he said.

“Responsibility?” I eloquently inquired.

“You must entertain Ganpati,”

“Oh, sure,” I chuckled. “I will.”

Now he was the one squinting.

“No joke. You must entertain Ganpati.” Then he got even seriouser. “Always.”

“What about sleep?” I asked.

“You have wife, children entertain Ganpati when you not able,” he said.

I was taken aback for a second, as I had neither wives nor children. However, I figured television, as usual, would fill that void.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I will.”

The man looked at me some more. Then he looked at Ganpati.

“This Ganpati not for you,” he said.

“Whom’s it for?” I asked.

“This not Ganpati for you,” he said.

“What is it for me?” I asked.

He stared at me as if he knew exactly what I was doing and was embarrassed for me. I was embarrassed for myself.

“OK, why not?” I asked.

He reached deep into his counter and came out with a dusty old Ganpati, slightly reclining and with some indefinable accusation in his eye. On second glance, it was gone, and I was left to wonder whether it’d been just a trick of the light or, rather, so minute that I’d already become inured to it. I looked from this Ganpati to mine—it had none of the regal bearing of my chosen one. Rather, it lay in a kind of self-consciously bold position of entitled relaxation, as if waiting to be fanned and fed grapes.

“This Ganpati for you,” he said.

“ looks old. And dusty,” I said.

He turned to the back of the shop.

“Sanju,” he called.

A boy who looked as if constructed from the spare parts of an erector set emerged from the back and came quickly. The man spoke to him in a tongue unfamiliar to me, and the boy flew back whence he’d come, carrying Ganpati with him.

I looked at the old man quizzically.

He momentarily shot his fingers out at me and then retracted them, as if showing me a naughty tattoo on his palm. I was confused until he provided narration.

“Five minute.”

The way things were going, I figured I didn’t have much choice.

When the boy returned, I thought he must have exchanged that Ganpati for a new one, fresh out of the blister pack. This one was shiny and bright, with blue and red robes and shiny silver and gold jewelry. I wondered what they kept back there.

The man looked at me confidently.

“This Ganpati for you,” he said.

I gave a sly smile of acquiescence. I couldn’t argue that it looked quite nice, possibly even better than my original, though that was nowhere in sight.

“OK, fine,” I said.

And soon I was walking back home, the proud new owner of a shiny old Ganpati.
When I was almost out of earshot, I heard the unmistakable click of tongue against molars. I turned to see the old man looking at me.

“Do not forget—entertain him,” he said.

I brought him home feeing the anxious exhilaration of a new mother, fully aware of the responsibility, but not certain I realized the depth of its extent. His bassinet was a red-cloth-covered stand on the only shelf in my apartment. I had strung what I only know to call Christmas lights around it. But, also like a new mother, as soon as I placed him there, all gussied up in his robes and sparkling jewelry, I just knew we would get along famously.

However, I knew I had to do my part to make the relationship work, and my part was simple, though not easy—I had to entertain little Gani.

I first thought of what I like to do when I’m bored. I pulled over the laptop and played music for him. I played some of my favorite rock ‘n’ roll, but he just looked bored. I went through ragas, Bollywood songs, Hindi pop, rockabilly, Hebrew traditional—through it all, his expression remained one of lethargic ennui.

Figuring he’s from the younger generation and therefore more of a digital-age cat, I placed the TV in front of him. We started with comedies. There was nothing funny about his mien. Tried some dramas—his countenance lacked any hint of the dramatic. Put on some talk shows, but he looked like he’d prefer they all just shut up. Neither late-night celebriphilic nor mid-day disfunctional merited anything more than his blank stare.

Of course! I thought. I’ve been ignoring his inner animal! With hope too desperate for caution, I turned to Animal Planet.

I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw they were showing a documentary on Africa! We were staring straight at mighty beasts whose visages were that which Ol’ Ganzo encountered in every mirror (though, admittedly, more ascetically attired).

Smiling wide, I took my eyes off of the elephant herd* on TV and looked over at Gani—he looked as if I had ordered him to watch paint dry on a humid day.

Under water.



Maybe I’d misjudged him—maybe, I thought, looking at his thick gray facial hide, he’s the stereotypical elephant, with a sharp mind and an old soul.

As my hope, wiser now, allowed itself only the slightest anticipation of success, I brought in the big guns—Austen, Hardy, Bronte, Shakespeare. Frost, Poe, Joyce. Hemingway and Nabokov. Not one elicited as much as a raised eyebrow! Nary an “Oh, bully phrase!” Never an “I say! Bloody brilliant characterization!” And if the reader expects me to regale him with tales of how Gani humoured my questions on what cruel twist of fate might next befall a Hemingwaian hero, or what twisted motivations compel Poe-ish performances, he will be sorely, sorely disappointed.

It was then I realized that all my efforts had been misguided. Gani didn’t want someone else’s work to entertain him—he’s the type of chap who would crave good, old-fashioned camaraderie. The timeless art of conversation.

With a skip in my step and a hop in my skip, I went to the fridge, grabbed a couple of six packs, and put them down between Gani and me. We gazed at the birds flitting about the jacaranda tree as I told him about myself—my childhood in Rajasthan, amongst the camels. My adolescence in Kolkata’s red-light district, just a fresh-faced kid trying to make an honest buck. My early career spent clerking in The Hague.

It was only when I was quite drunk that I realized it was I who had consumed all the beers. It was immediately after that that I realized it was I who had told all the stories. I slowly turned to look at him, knowing only too well what I’d find. But my imagination had been poor preparation for the reality of that cold, mindless stare—one identical, I realized, to those I’d seen at the zoo when stopping by the elephant cage: a half-conscious look of mindless boredom.

That was it. He had insulted great musicians, he had insulted great writers, he had insulted Jerry Springer*, and now he had insulted me.

*former mayor of Cincinnati

What strain of bloke was I dealing with here? His belly was at most a few jelly sandwiches short of Old Saint Nick’s, but no one’s ever heard of coming down Christmas morning to find Santa shirtless, lounging on their couch, bulging out of decadent robes, all their best jewelry making him outblink the Christmas tree every time he repositions his heft. Certainly no one could imagine Father Christmas just lying there, staring at them accusatorially until they whipped him up a satisfactory batch of snickerdoodles.*

*A type of cookie*


I picked up that pachydermal ingrate by back and gut, tore him away from his royal throne, threw him under one arm, and headed out the door. As I purposefully strode down the street, I could feel the confused stares of locals on me, as their idiots’ anthem, “Ganpati Bappa…Maur-ya,”* that three-word call-and-response that kept them entertained for hours, faded to silence.

*This chant is often heard, between the mind-numbing drum beats and nervous-system-overloading bangs of fire crackers, as groups of people march around the streets, taking Ganpati to their homes or, at the end of his stay, taking him to the sea, or some stand-in body of water, to immerse him, sending him back to the earth whence he came, symbolizing the unending cycle of renewal of which we are all part. Or something like that.

Onlookers’ stares heavy on my consciousness the whole way, I finally arrived at the visarjan pond.* Any shame impeding my progress was more than overcome by the rage I felt toward this elephantcephalitic abomination. It was with ill-concealed glee that I held out that morose bastard in both hands and dove into the water after him.

*The pond where people immerse their Ganpatis

In an animosity-driven rush, I headed straight for bottom.

Gargling curses at the elephantine infuriation, I pounded his fixed phizog into the pond’s floor time and again, until my body trembled for air, forcing me to surface. As I reacquainted my lungs with oxygen, I felt something knock against the back of my head. I turned to find that betrunked bastard bobbing beside me, glinting, whole and mocking, in the evening light.

The son of a bitch had never truly lived, and now it seemed he wouldn’t die.

My rage redoubled, I grabbed him and dove once again, this time pushing him trunk-first into the sludge, twisting and turning him, trying to screw him into the pond bottom for good. No matter what technique I tried, though, I’d always feel his wretched mass ascend back into my hands as soon as I released it. Half mad with rage and oxygen deprivation, I began banging him off a submarinean rock my foot had come across.

I evacuated my lungs to bring myself nearer the rock. In a mad frenzy, I began beating rock with elephant at a pace of several times a second. I didn’t slow when I perceived I may have cleaved a section of his exoskeleton. I didn’t yield when my lungs and head began to ache. Rather, the knowledge that I’d soon have to surface only drove me to work harder, eventually coming to thrash my whole body up and down, off of and back onto the silty bottom in a rhythmic attempt at maximal destruction. I only relented when a sharp pain in my groin emptied my mind of all else.

I released the object of my objection without a thought, my hands flying to my groin, to find a sliver of something hard embedded sturdily in my skin. Feeling only that I needed to remove it immediately, I pulled it out and brought it into the sunlight. It was a sharp, pink shard. That’s when I noticed Ganpati floating in front of me a bit off-kilter and saw the top part of a gash where his left back used to reside. Though I didn’t need to, I looked back at the shard to confirm it was the exact size and shape to perfectly plug that capsizing con.

My other hand, on my inner thigh, felt as though it were covering a pulsating whirlpool jet. He’d struck femoral.

I knew I’d never leave that pond.

As a coldness spread across my skin, I realized he’d planned this from the beginning. From the first time he’d laid his droopy eyes on me, he’d known this was how we’d meet our end. And, like some kind of retarded kamikazi, like a deep-cover suicide bomber, his patience, manipulation, and disregard for self-preservation had let him triumph.

I surfaced once more, doing my best to die in my world—the world of air and sight—even if I’d never exit that pond, my body to be interred with the corpses of him and thousands of his brothers. As I watched what I knew was the last sunset I’d ever see, I was hyper aware of the varying gold, orange, and purple hues. I saw the diaphanous beauty of it shining through the leafy branches of the Indian almond tree. I was aware of the elegant luxury of the light breeze upon my face.

The decadent, conquering trunked god saw what I saw. Though he was canting from the water he’d taken on, his back was to me; he also faced the sunset. I noticed the symmetry of our positions, and our situations, and reflected that perhaps it was meant to be.



Karmic destiny.

As my sight faded and my legs weakened, I fought to stay al aire. The breeze had changed directions, cooling a new section of my damp, matted hair, and Ganpati, half-submerged though he was, began to spin away from the setting sun. Moments before gravity triumphed over my legs, he rotated to face me.

It may have been the soon-to-be-fatal blood loss, but I swear I saw him smiling.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Creepy Conversation

I swept the crevices of my bathroom/shower today. Had to. Water heater’s broken. Gotta see if I can get a repairman to come. They give you funny looks if you haven’t cleaned your place. Then they spit red paan/saliva juice on your hallway wall as they leave.

Anyway, I was showering the shower of the heatless afterwards when I saw a small, stocky, maybe 1.5-cm-long spider crawling along the wall. Don’t usually see him in those parts – them’s usually the domain of daddy longlegs. The look he gave me told me this weren’t a social call. He was petitioning me for having razed his living quarters.

I gave him the, “What, dude?” look. Then I squinted, “I’m sorry about your place, but what do you want me to do? Societal conventions demand it – those very same ones that have enabled you to be entertained with whiny Hindi music blasting out of speakers across the street at stadium-rocking volume since 6:30 a.m. this morning.

His look told me he remained unsatisfied.

“OK, man,” I gazed back. “I go to work every day, only to find new work. I pull down your house what? Quarterly? Give me a break.”

He hung about, still seeming unconvinced.

So I glanced, “And how much rent you payin’?”

That gets ‘em every time.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fighting traffic

Well, as the wiser of you probably expected - I've been upbraided for dedicating my previous post to a viewer, especially one whom I described as a neophyte. Let me tell you what I believe my thinking was.

I think it's like when you get married. You certainly appreciate the mistresses, maybe even more, but you gotta give the wife a nod now and again, ‘cuz, even if her affection ain’t the strongest, still, she did go to the trouble to make it official.

That said, the mistresses get angry if they don’t get their attention, too, so I hereby salute and dedicate this post to one of my most devoted readers – someone who’s read every single post, “even the weird ones,” as she says. I thank you, Maria, for your devotion and loyalty. And your concern that I will electrocute myself while bathing.

I was hot. I was tired. I was at the end of a static line in a hot Belapurean* train station.
I was pissed off.

*Belapur is the suburb of Mumbai in which I reside.

My eyes were half-closed as I endured the pain of existing in that state, waiting in one of two long, parallel lines ending at adjacent ticket windows.

I hadn’t been able to get the microphone/recorder from the office, as it had been closed when I arrived, despite the fact that I thought it opened at eight and had gotten there at five past.
Therefore, I’d have to rely solely on note-taking at the interview I was on my way to conduct, which wasn’t terrible, but was definitely less desirable than having the aid of an audio record of events.

As I stared at the line of pale button-down shirts and salwar kameezes in front of me, I heard some noise from the front of the adjacent line. I looked up to see a younger guy throwing a sloppy punch at another’s cheek and landing a pretty solid-looking, and sounding, blow. Then I saw some douchebag, former resident of one of the lines, I assume, turned around on the other side of the fight, enjoying the action. That was what really annoyed me. I could just see a cigar in his mouth, one hand up in the air, full of makeshift tickets from the surrounding crowd, with odds written on them, a cigar-and-Brooklyn-accented voice shouting out what bets he was taking.
Other people kind of formed a circle around the combatants as well. That, too, I couldn’t stand – people taking this as a rare opportunity for entertainment in their daily commute.

I slid my backpack off of my shoulder and held it by one strap. I left the line and took the few steps it required to bring me within range of the fighters. I swung my backpack in a wide arc and smacked the side of the fighting mass.

They kind of noticed. Then I was there, so I tried to push them apart. I actually remember focusing on the older guy (maybe in his thirties), but somehow I ended up pushing, as I walked away, hands-to-chest, the younger guy (maybe early twenties) from the epicentre of the entanglement.

About four or five steps away, his eyes had a pleading look. He made sounds. I had a feeling he was speaking English, but I didn’t understand any of it, so it must not have been. I guess it was just the clarity with which I understood his intended communication – he was obviously indicating that he couldn’t be back here, away from the beginning of the line, as he needed to get a ticket or do whatever he had been trying to do when he and the other gentleman had decided to break for fisticuffs.

So I looked back to see where the other guy was and found he was off to the side. I don’t remember if someone else was keeping him there, perhaps talking to him, or not. But I do remember a quick recurrence of fighting seemed not too likely, so I ceased impeding the kid’s progress.

Then I got back in line approximately where I had been. I tried to ask the people around me if that’s where I had been. They seemed to understand absolutely zero of the intended inquiry. Or at least care to. So I just stayed where I’d re-entered.

I was there probably fifteen seconds when I noticed my legs were a little shaky. But it was, to my surprise, nothing major.

Maybe ten seconds after that, another ruckus erupted from the front of the adjacent line – it seemed the two pugilists would not be deterred. They were fighting again. At this, I thought, “Well, you can’t stop the inevitable,” and laughed as I stayed in line.

However, some other guy broke them up this time, pushing the older guy away from the younger. Soon after, the older guy quickly exited, seemingly having gotten what he’d wanted at the ticket window. Within ten seconds, the younger followed in a similar state. They didn’t look at each other, but their paces were rapid, and the crowd’s eyes followed them in a way that indicated they half expected a recurrence of the festivities right outside the station.

Of course, no one left their place in line.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Electric-cide

(This post is dedicated to my sole (blog) follower, recently acquired. As I don't know whether or not they would like to have their name made public, or if the shame would be overwhelming, they shall remain nameless (well, no, they have a name, and, to my knowledge, have had one for quite some time, but I shall not broadcast that name using this high-powered broadcasting forum at this time.))...)(?)

Well, that’s it. It’s found me. The pipeline electricity has found me, and it’s once again intent on killing me.

(As loyal readers have no doubt realized, this is in reference to my June 17, 2009 post, "Shockingly Clean." (You may expect me to mention my follower here, but, to my knowledge, they've only read 1.08 posts, so...they probably wouldn't get the reference. Still, a follower's a follower...))

Over the past week, I noticed my water tank being depleted more quickly than usual. Then I realised that, at least at certain times (it’s still unclear to me exactly what was going on), the at-best-serviceable water heater was evacuating itself of water through what I assume is its water-evacuation tube.

To remedy this, I turned off the water to the heater.

This left me without warm water.

It’s Bombay, but still.

So I turned it back on and plugged the water-evacuation tube with my thumb. I felt a slight pulsation. Whenever my finger, which had a small cut on it, happened to pass beneath this stream of water, it stung like the Dickinson (not as bad as the Dickens, but still). I compared this to putting my finger under a different stream of water – an action which caused no pain whatsoever.

Curious, I thought.

I wondered if perhaps the water heater had discovered a way to make lemonade.

But then I remembered the pulsating sensation my thumb had felt.

Lemonade, to my knowledge, does not pulsate.

Regardless, my intent had been to check if the tube could be plugged, thereby returning the functioning of the water heater to its previous glory. The verdict was innocent.

Or guilty.

Whichever correlates to “no.”

Later on, I figured I’d check if the water coming out of the water-evacuation tube was hot. I took the cup I use to pour the water from my bathing bucket onto myself for bathing purposes, and, as best I could, put it under the stream of water being evacuated from the water heater.

I checked the collected water and determined that it was, indeed, warm.

The problem, however, was that the evacuation tube is directly above a short, sturdy, larger tube that connects the water heater to the wall. Thus, the evacuated water falls directly onto this larger tube, dispersing it and making it difficult to catch in my cup. But that larger tube is so close to the evacuation tube that it’s nigh impossible to put the cup between it and the evac. tube.

However, this morning I tried it once again, just because cold showers will motivate one to go to certain lengths. That’s when I felt the pulsation again, stronger this time.

And that’s when I realised it had found me. That Bombay bathroom-centric electricity that is intent on being the agent of my demise.

Article on, and photos from, Andre Jeanpierre Fanthome



(Shorter-term link with intro on first photo (of a silhouetted horse and rider) - click on it.)

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Photo gallery

Monday, September 7, 2009

In the Land of Religion and Spirituality...

The Indian people are a welcoming lot. Especially the men. If you’re a white guy walking around Mumbai, they’ll ask you where you’re going so they can point you in the right direction. You’ll receive numerous invitations to sit with total strangers at restaurants. And if you’re looking to go somewhere in a rickshaw, the drivers will often offer to ease your burden upon alighting from the vehicle by doing their best to lighten your wallet.

Meatloaf? Meeatlooaf!!

Two out of threeee aaain't baaaaad.


Thank you.

And if you’re a white guy walking around Mumbai with an Indian girl, they’ll show her concern. They’ll ask her if she likes to speak English – if she’s too good for Hindi. They’ll ask her if there aren’t any Indian men left. In fact, their hearts are so kind, their generosity so abundant, they’ll even offer to fuck her.

That’s hospitality.

I know, I know. I know what you’ll say. “There are living, breathing wastes of human flesh everywhere in the world.” But you’d be wrong; I’ll tell you why.

Now, yes, there are living, breathing wastes of human flesh everywhere in the world. You are correct, sir! But I’ve been to a number of different countries and never seen anything like this. They sit there in a group of guys, their clearly audible Hindi remarks (obviously precision-guided, aimed solely at the girl), unwillingness to look you in the eye, and craven refusal to take credit for what they’ve said after the fact making it impossible not to recall those sexually frustrated high school guys who constantly stew in the bitter juice of their neglected libido, of that age before dating becomes common and of that type whose high fear of rejection or low likelihood of success prohibited them from even seeing themselves as potential participants in the dating scene. So, to let a little blood to treat the disease, they resorted to abuse. Here in Mumbai, every time you go out, you don’t think it might happen. You know it will happen. The only questions are how often and to what extent.

Sure, in the U.S., there’s the stereotype of construction workers engaging in such sexual harassment. And yes, I have seen it happen in the U.S. But those were white skinheads hanging out in the middle of the workday outside a department store in downtown Pittsburgh yelling at a black guy with a white girl. (The black guy responded by communicating to those fine ambassadors of baldness that he planned to later return with his boys. I don’t know if that ever happened, but if it did, I can only assume it was a delightful occasion full of mixed drinks, vegetable trays, and Jenga.) As I said, it was a group of skinheads who like department stores – not something you find every day. But in India, you get that from university students walking around a residential neighbourhood, from high school kids at the mall, and from 30-, maybe 40-, something men at tourist attractions. (To be fair, the tourist attraction guy had first followed the white guy, his white friend, and his Indian girlfriend about 300 feet and invited all of them to swim in a pond with him. He had also been told, and possibly believed, in his rather inebriated state, that the Indian girl was Swedish, before telling his Indian friend in Hindi that the two of them should just give the white guys a tight slap and then fuck the girl. (It was never adequately explained to the author whether or not this gentleman meant one slap each or total.))

Here in India, they call it “Eve teasing.” I can only assume they call cancer “funky, ambitious growth.”

To their sexually confused minds, any Indian woman who has a boyfriend, or, as far as I can speak on the topic, at least a white boyfriend, must be sexually permissive and indiscriminate, meaning that she would be just as happy to get naked with them as she is to walk around with her boyfriend. So you get comments like, “How much?” or “I wonder if she’ll go up with me afterwards.” Of course, they assume the whole relationship is one big intercourse-fest, if I may use the non-alliterative term, as shown by comments that are audible to the lone girl who’s arriving home later than usual, such as, “Oh, she stayed late at his place today – must be really sore now.” If she’s walking around with her boyfriend and another white friend, they’ll proffer their prognostication that a three-some will be shortly in the offing.

Now, of course, harassment is preferable to assault, physical or sexual. But that happens, too. Delhi is kind of known for it. But even Mumbai, which isn’t, is a place where a girl, even accompanied by two guys, is questioned as to what she’s doing out so late when she catches a rickshaw at 9 at night. And if she needs a late-night cab to get somewhere in an emergency? Well, first she’ll call everyone she knows who has a car, because everyone knows that a single woman alone in a cab at night risks rape.

So that’s nice. In a “this-country’s-morally-pathetic” kind of way. But at least it’s got a low divorce rate!

I don’t know if it’s a lack of strong deterrents like frequency of arrest for such things. Maybe it's some kind of backfire from a culture that so frowns upon girls having any sexual power (and possibly thereby gives them all of it by turning them into abstractions of desirability rather than people) that men feel they are free to treat them, at least verbally (and relatively frequently, physically) in an abusive, dehumanizing way (or that their only, limited, power lies in doing so). Maybe it’s the result of a culture that makes it so difficult to have a relationship you’d like to that, when you see someone doing so, especially someone who’s unlike you, and especially with a girl of your own kind whom you yourself wouldn’t mind doing so with, your jealousy manifests itself as sophomoric, but virulent, offensive, and, at least in theory, actionable verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse.

Of course, abuse, even of the verbal kind, isn’t from everyone. But it happens with such frequency that it can be fairly stated that there’s a cultural tendency toward it that’s much stronger than, certainly, America, and I’d guess many, many other places as well. And thus, it may be interesting to analyze and examine those factors that make it so much more prevalent. It may even be useful.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Indians aren't all right – they're fine.

Walk down the street, run into some young kids toting some consumer good around on bikes during school hours because they can't afford not to, and they'll ask, “How are you?”

Surprised at their English skills, and perhaps having recently been caught in a deluge, you'll answer, “Oh! Ahh...I'm a little wet.” To give evidence, you'll indicate your pants, which are soaked up to mid-calf. “But all right. How are you?”

“Fine,” they'll say.

There was, you should know, never any doubt.

In fact, it's very likely they didn't understand your answer. It's likely, after answering, they will ask again.

“How are you?”

You may be confused, having already answered. However, you won't want to seem rude, so you'll laugh and say, “Yeah. Yeah, I'm all right. Not bad.”

This, however, is not good enough for them. They desire more for you.

“Fine?” they will helpfully suggest.

“Umm...yeah,” You'll realize. “Yeah, I'm fine!”

A smile will break out on their face, and they'll happily go on their way.

And you'll also smile, knowing that, all in all, you're just fine.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wanton Soup

Her name was Han Han. She was a showgirl. She cooked the best rice in rice sauce south of the Yangtze River.

I met her at work. It had been a long day of teaching “Engrish” to a bunch of rice-paddy-tending yokels who “want go Harvard.”

Most of them would.

I decided to treat myself by going down to the local skin joint and enjoying some rice beer while trying to discern the pole dancer from the pole in that dimly lit, smoky dive.

When she first came on, she didn’t strike me as anything great. Just another village pole dancer in another village in another rural Chinese province. But as she got closer, I noticed something special about her. Her hair was somehow straighter and blacker than the straight, black hair of all the other dancers. Her thin, curveless figure somehow thinner and less curvy.

By the time she had stripped fully down, to only shorts and a light spring jacket (this was the provinces, after all), I knew she was special.

I went backstage after her performance and asked around for her. She had gone home, I was told. Home to cook rice in rice sauce for her ailing grandmother.

After much cajoling and a promise of a bottle of real Kikkoman soy sauce, straight from America, I got her address:

Hut #7
Barren Plain

I knew the area well, for I lived in the next town over, Empty Field.

I had grown up in a region not dissimilar, among hardy cornraising stock in central Nebraska. I knew how this kind lived. I knew how they thought. I knew what stirred their souls, fired their loins.

After one final glance at my surroundings, confirming I was in a barren plain and not simply a field that was empty, I strode right up to Hut #7, knocked confidently upon the wicker door, and walked through the cloud of dust it made as it fell to the floor.

There I saw her in all her tender glory—Han Han, gingerly chopsticking out rice in rice sauce to her frail old grandmother, who looked as if even the typical chopstick-sized serving of four-to-five rice grains would be too much. This, I assumed, was why Han Han was using extra short sticks to only deliver a grain or two at a time.

I knew sincerity and honesty, forthrightness and lack of pretence was the only way, and a sure way, to win these people over. I walked right up to them, looked the grandmother in the eyes, and said, in my best Chinese, “Dear, revered, and wise elder, I am most sincerely in love with your kind granddaughter who comes home to cook, feed, and care for you without a second thought. I can think of no one and nothing else. If you’ll only give your blessing, I shall make it my passion in life to provide her with everything she could ever need or desire, with all the love a man is capable of giving, and with all the passion that can be wrung from a single soul.”

Her response was the kind of old-world poetry that cuts to the heart of human experience and understanding—the kind that has most certainly been lost in today’s manneredly insincere society.

“How much you give for her?”

Of course, how was I to answer that? What could recompense a woman losing the kindest caretaker, the most loving companion, her own flesh and blood? What could possibly be worth the love of this dedicated, tender, straight-hair-and-straight-figured beauty who’d captured my heart?

“Two goats, fifty dollars American, and new door.”

“And watch,” she said, indicating my watch.

“And watch,” I said, removing my watch.

After placing her new watch in the old crone’s lap, I took the hand of my fiancée, and the two of us gaily walked away, over the door and into a new life.

As we were almost out of earshot, we heard one last hearty bellow from the demanding hag.
“Door’d better be wood!”

Life wasn’t easy for Han Han and me. Especially because wooden doors aren’t cheap. She continued her work at the local spring jacket joint; I continued teaching the future engineers of America. It was rewarding work, but trying. Each night, we would fall into each other’s arms, exhausted, and sleep the sleep of the young, poor, and rural Chinese.

One day, Han Han awoke with severe nausea. It continued for a week. Finally, after much begging and pleading, I let her see a doctor. He told her she was pregnant. I told her she hadn’t needed to worry.

Over time, she lost her resemblance to a pole and acquired one to a speed bump. She ate and ate—sometimes up to two cups of rice a day with an additional cup of rice sauce. I was beside myself. I didn’t know what to do—we could barely afford a cup of rice and a half cup of rice sauce per diem prepregnancy. Now, with her sexy figure gone, she was barely making anything in tips while our food bill had skyrocketed.

I knew something had to be done, so I packed up my things and headed for the city. I offered to teach the children of the rich, but they already had teachers. I tried to steal a panda and sell it to a foreign zoo, but they’re violent suckers. I then tried to steal medical supplies from the hospital where I was convalescing from furorem pandiosum, but when they ran out of supplies, I was forced to use them on myself. I tried to set up an all-you-can-eat hamburger buffet, but everyone just made fun of my accent, and someone started a nasty rumour that I used beef instead of dog.

I went back home. To the plain. To Han Han. To our foetus. And what did I find but a dirty Chinese fellow sleeping in my bed. With my wife. And our foetus. He greeted me with a disturbing forthrightness. Almost a familiarity.

“Hello, sir. Thank you for the courtesy of your bed and your wife.”

“I offered no such courtesy,” said I.

“I told him you had,” said Han Han.

“Oh,” said I.

“I want to marry him,” said Han Han.

“Oh,” said I again.

“He makes a good living. I don’t have to degrade myself anymore, wearing a spring jacket in the dead of winter.”

“What does he do?”

“He teaches Chinese to American businessmen.”

I turned to him.

“Whence do you know such people?”

“I met them at Harvard, sir,” he said.

Of course! I’d taught English to this conniving backstabber years before!

He must have seen the recognition in my eyes.

“Recognise me now, sir?”

“Why, Zhang Xiao-Zing! I always knew you’d go far! I just didn’t know it’d be with my wife!”

“Yes, sir. It came as a big surprise to me as well.”

“I was surprised too,” said Han Han.

No one paid her any attention.

“Sir. Let me buy you some General Tso’s dog. It is the only honourable thing to do.”

“No. I must mourn the loss of my wife. I have been shamed and need to leave this land, never to return.”

“I understand,” he said. “I’m surprised you’re still here,” he added.

I smacked him once.

“I understand,” he said.

I grabbed my bags, which were still packed, and headed for the door. I turned around, walked back toward them, and smacked him again, for good measure.

Then I left.

As I was almost out of earshot, I said to Zhang Xiao-Zing, “Say hi to your grandmother-in-law for me.”

“What does he mean, Han Han?” I heard, as I faded out of their lives.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Things You Probably Wanted to Know

What’s that? Speak up? I can’t barely hear ya!

More non-sense! More non-sense!

OK, that’s better. I can almost make it out...

More non-sense! More non-sense!

Oh, OK. Now I got ya! How ‘bout a little louder, just for emphasis?

More non-sense! More non-sense!

Oh, come on. You can do better than that!

More non-sense! More non-sense!

OK, there we go! All right, you asked for it — you got it!...But only ‘cause you showed restraint...

(It just so happens that, in my celery-related research, I came across some interesting tidbits regarding another iconic, life-giving character central to daily life...following are those tidbits.)

Vin Diesel’s k mode can actually travel faster than the speed of light. His non-k mode can travel just as fast, but only for less than the Planck time. He claims that he beat a ray of light in a marathon once, but there are no other witnesses to confirm it, because he proceeded to reflect the ray of light into space using his bald pate.

Vin Diesel is the man in the moon.

Vin Diesel sells snake oil, but only authentic snake oil, and then only to those snakes who need it.

Vin Diesel knows how to fix social security, but he’s not telling anyone until he gets his biscuit back.

Vin Diesel divided by zero is still Vin Diesel.

Vin Diesel was the 92nd pope.

Vin Diesel can read Japanese, but only while sleeping.

Vin Diesel is 99 octane.

Vin Diesel is more widely available at European gas stations.

Vin is really a nickname for Vini, given to him by his brothers, Vidi and Vici.

Vin Diesel is the mythical creator of Rome.

Vin Diesel secretly hates Secretary’s Day, but gets his secretary a big bouquet of flowers every year. However, due to his animosity toward the idea, he doesn’t get the freshest flowers, but rather a bunch that are already showing the first signs of wilt.

Vin Diesel knows your mother’s maiden name.

Vin Diesel has his cake and is eating it as we speak.

Due to the favorable exchange rate, a Vin Diesel in the hand is worth about 3.5 in the bush.

Vin Diesel has a master’s in Pig Latin, but feels it only appropriate to use when he time travels back to Roman farms.

Vin Diesel originally drove the snakes out of Ireland, but then thought better of it and put them back.

Vin Diesel is really only 55% diesel and 45% unleaded.

Vin Diesel moved my cheese.

Vin Diesel built Stonehenge.

Vin Diesel calls them crawdads.

Vin Diesel is neither a VIN nor a diesel. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Vin Diesel sells seashells by the sea shore. And he has a higher profit margin than she does.

Vin Diesel is the 1965 Marion County, Louisiana, macrame champion.

Vin Diesel has courted queens and supermodels, but he prefers his teddy bear Mr. Winkus.

If Vin Diesel ever made a lunar landing, the Earth would rotate around the moon.

Vin Diesel waxes gibbous about three times annually.

Vin Diesel prefers calligraphy to stencil, but will even just do chiaroscuro shading if the need arises.

Vin Diesel is the fifth estate.

Vin Diesel is Lonestar’s father.

Vin Diesel will stop the rain.

Vin Diesel's is the son of a liger and a mule.

Vin Diesel stole the kiszka.

He also stole the cookie from the cookie jar.

Vin Diesel is the deal with airline peanuts.

Vin Diesel is the question and the answer.

(Inspired by sites such as the following:


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Few Interesting Facts About Celery

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here, but that’s because I’m both busy and lazy.

In honor of the upcoming 62nd celebration of Indian Independence Day, here is a list of facts I found about our friend, the salubrious, salacious, and occasionally sang-froidesque celery:

The celery is the world’s second-largest fruit (behind the watermelon).

As early as 1998, celery seeds were used in some western cultures as aphrodisiacs.

The band Celery & Me, founded by Marc Stevens, featured a reference to celery in every song, often as a good, the best, or the only friend of the singer. At concerts, Stevens was known to have his bass player dress up in a celery suit.

The Celery Suit is a nickname for the 1978 case of Fredericks v. Fischer Agroproducts Ltd, in which a Mrs. William P. Fredericks claimed that the massive amounts of celery being grown on the farm adjacent to her house were causing her dog to exhibit antisocial behaviour. The case was the first in a line of findings for “Big Celery” that opened up the industry after the restrictions placed on it in the 60s because of fears that celery would be the means a conservative government would try to make inroads with its campaign of reasserting control on American society.

In 1988, the Jamaican bobsled team, famous for qualifying for the Olympic Games, briefly considered using celery sticks as runners on their sled. This claim has alternately been used to underscore the dire financial straits of the team, the team’s ingenuity and enterprising spirit, and stereotyping claims that its members were high on dope.*

*They were.

Celery is known as a negative-calorie food, as more calories are burned chewing and digesting it than are provided from its digestion – it is, however, widely considered to “weigh down the soul.”

“There ain’t no thing that celery sticks won’t fix” was the motto of an ad campaign financed by the Greater Canadian Association of Celery Growers. Its claims that “Celery can cure arteriosclerosis,” “Celery can ease a broken heart,” and “Celery can be used as a weight-bearing architectural structure in many older homes,” encountered strong opposition and were eventually shelved pending “further peer-reviewed studies.” These studies never occurred.

Celery green is considered a less satisfying green than clover green, though often preferred to the latter by sufferers of moderate-to-severe depression.

The Cincinnati Celery Stalkers (later the Cincinnati Celeries) were a baseball team that played in the Northern Baseballing League from 1898-1917. They are most well known as the team for which Joey Cantigliere played before establishing his famous chain of Cantigliere’s Restaurlours (a portmanteau of “restaurant” and “(ice cream) parlour”), which featured the concept of “dinnert,” Cantigliere's novel idea of combining dinner and dessert into one meal. Examples include “Joey’s famous spaghetti ‘n’ walnut balls,” “Cantigliere’s linguini in cookies ‘n’ crème sauce,” and “The Old Sicilian – cannelloni and cannoli.”(The team is also remembered for the celery “laminae” its fans would wear as headdresses in support, made from various types of leafy houseplant.)

A small but growing contingent of evolutionary biologists believe celery to be descended from an aquatic bivalve found off the Pacific shelf during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene epochs.

Pound for pound, celery is weaker than steel but stronger than Styrofoam.

In 2003, an Austrian study concluded that consuming four cups of celery a day decreased a person’s will to live by nearly ¼ (22%). It has yet to be replicated.

“Celery-muncher” is the taunt preferred by many underweight health-food enthusiasts who are allergic to granola but are nonetheless often miscategorised in aspersions as “granola-eater.”

During the Great Copenhagen Bread Shortage of 1417, when the majority of Denmark’s domestic bread rations went to supply the country’s army in its fight against illiteracy, hot dogs were commonly eaten on buns of celery.

Through the centuries, celery has been worshipped as a false god, scorned as a seductive vamp, and upheld as the pinnacle of a law-based society. (Source needed)

The notion that Genghis Khan considered celery one of the seven incarnations of God has lost favour in the general historical and historio-religious communities, only retaining favour in some small religious groups such as “The Church of Kublai Khan” and a small sect of Jews living on the leeward side of various mountains in the Caucuses. However, it is thought that G. Khan was an admirer of its virility and made it a staple of his army’s rations whenever feasible.

Celery is a medium-efficiency conductor of electrical current, but only in the northern hemisphere.

The first “person” to eat celery was not a person at all – it was a wild boar named Snoot who lived near the Nile Delta with his family, though, unbeknownst to them, he had a second family up the river.

The word “celery” comes from “celerity,” meaning “quickness,” due to early cultivators’ observations that its crops could be harvested earlier than those of other plants. (Some etymologists disagree, claiming instead that it was the enhanced intestinal regularity the consumption of celery gave that explains its etymology.)

Celery was first cultivated in the Nile Delta region of Egypt around 4,700 BCE. It was used mainly as a between-meals snack for the Pharaoh.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Slippery Slope

So I finally got TV channels set up here last night – satellite TV. I hadn’t even particularly wanted it, although it was nice to be able to watch the hockey playoffs and the occasional movie in the hotel. And that’s when we were negotiating for what I got in the apartment – so when they asked, “Do you want a TV and a programming hook-up?” I said, “Yeah, OK. Sure.” But then, after having lived without it for several weeks, I wasn’t too keen on getting it – I’d probably never have read so much after having worked all day as I had in the last couple of weeks if I’d had TV programming...But the guy who’s been helping me, Kapil, was working so hard on it, and doing such a seemingly effective job, I didn’t want to be a killjoy.

So, anyway, last night, he showed up on my doorstep, shivering and wet. No, actually, he was dry and at an apparently comfortable temperature. But he came in and encouraged me to turn on the TV – I don’t know what inspired him to do this particular thing at this particular time, as earlier in the day we (he) had called the programming helpline, and, as far as I could tell (the girl who listened to our “conversation” in the office seems happy enough to laugh as she listens to one or the other’s side but surprisingly disinclined to share that joy by providing any translation to the other party...), been told that programming would be available in 24 hours. Anyway, perhaps just wanting me to check or perhaps having some inside information, he asked me to turn it on, and "Voila,” as they probably used to say in the small Pondicherry French colonies here, “I see Zee TV!” (if they were indeed watching the channel named Zee TV, which they may have if they liked Western programming in English, which is what it seems to broadcast.)

I wasn’t overly excited by the prospect, but TV has an insidious way of growing on me, and pretty soon I was enjoying William Shatner’s relation of some hilarious anecdotes to Conan, who appeared to be on a new set or some such thing. I laughed quite heartily, which I felt a little bad about, as Kapil, who was sitting there watching with me, doesn’t speak English, and therefore was probably missing the finer points of Shatner’s story, though, one must admit, it did contain an unusually large amount of miming to dramatize the presentation, which was nice, although, when be began describing something that had happened when he'd headed off to relieve himself, Conan began to discourage such a style of storytelling.

Well, then that ended, and before they returned with Incubus after the commercial, we flipped through the channels to see what all I gotz. Then Kapil wanted to confirm that the HBO I got was in English, so I found it, and there was an adventure movie on, so we stayed with that for a bit (light on the dialogue, heavy on the action – translates well even without translation) before he had to go.

So, when he got up to leave, apparently having consumed a sufficient level of English-language television for the time being, I turned off the TV. After his departure, I planned on leaving it that way but then thought maybe I should just check to make sure it still worked after turning it on again. Then I thought maybe I’d just look at one or two of the channels I saw that was more likely to have something interesting on. Then, of a sudden, I found myself sitting there, being comforted by that avuncular old friend known as TV.

I felt like Adam. I hadn’t really been particularly interested in this apple - had been content just going about my simple but wholesome life - but it had been pushed so hard, I figured, “What the heck?” So I gave it a try. Just because. To be polite. And we all know how that story goes – next thing you know, it’s fifteen years later, and you're pouring the contents of the flask you keep in the interior pocket of your overcoat into your Gloria Jean's Coffee Beans cup in front of a Great Steak Escape in a food court in Poughkeepsie, staring ashamedly at the fifteen-year-old girls in their baby tees.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shockingly Clean

There’s nothing quite like coming home to an unelectrified plumbing system – because, I don’t care how tough and rugged you are, sometimes you just want to wash away the day’s worries without having to turn the hot water knob using an insulator. Trust me – a bucket bath just doesn’t live up to the hype if you’re in a constant state of careful estimation regarding whether or not there’s an unbroken circuit of water between the sink’s faucet and where the soap sits on the edge of the counter. When you don’t feel like jumping at the most minute twitch of a muscle because you think it’s the first sign that you’re about to be the path of least resistance between the water-covered floor and the capricious voltage source that sometimes manages to coerce the water pipes into collusion. Perhaps the most hilariously frustrating part is when, as you see the bucket below the lower faucet nearly full, you hurriedly grab some cotton shorts and use them to insulate your hand as you turn the lower-faucet on–everything off–shower-on lever to the middle, “everything off” position, but, in your hurry, go a bit too far, crossing over into “shower on” territory, and those handful of drops fall straight down, directly onto your shorts, on your hand, on the metal lever, almost instantaneously turning your shorts from quality insulator to great conductor, and sending that telltale throbbing pulse up your arm and down your leg.

Food for Thought

In India, there are appoximately 700 distinct foodstuffs considered “good for digestion.” In fact, if you are eating Indian food with an Indian, and said Indian begins a sentence with “It is...,” you can be 95% sure that the next words out of said Indian's mouth will be either a.) cooling, b.) good for health, c.) good, na?, or d.) good for digestion. Almost never will you here the more expected “hot as all get out to begin with, and eating this stuff would make you sweat in a meat locker.”

Lunch, Lunch, Lunch, Lunch...

As an objective outside observer, I believe I'm in a position to confidently say that they have a bit of a lunch complex over here. They always want to know, namely, if you've eaten it.
They also have a particular way of expressing it, specifying that it's your lunch they're referring to. You hear it so much, it becomes a cliché:
“Have you had your lunch?”
As if you just might answer:
“No, but I stole Renji's – don't tell the poor bastard, though, or I won't be able to steal it again tomorrow.”

Sunday, May 31, 2009

If by "Digestion" You Mean "Constipation"...

In India, there are appoximately 700 distinct foodstuffs considered “good for digestion.” In fact, if you are eating Indian food with an Indian, and said Indian begins a sentence with “It is...,” you can be 95% sure that the next words out of said Indian's mouth will be either a.) cooling, b.) good for health, c.) good, na?, or d.) good for digestion. Almost never will you here the more expected “hot as all get out to begin with, and eating this stuff would make you sweat in a meat locker.”

Friday, May 29, 2009

Offing the Offal

It seems, in Belapur, at least, that Saturday is Trash Day. Not “Take Out the Trash Day” or “Pick Up the Trash Day” really so much as “Burn the Trash Day.” And the scent was not one that brings back the rustic nostalgia of a camp fire. Rather, it brought to mind a raging tire factory inferno. I decided to hold my breath until I passed the fire and was pleasantly surprised as I realized that, with the heat of it still gratuitously warming my back on this hot summer's day, the strong wind yielded one side of the fire completely without scent or noxiousness. However, that same wind soon enough offered up for my olfactory enjoyment the scent of the plastic-and-rubber conflagration located a few hundred feet down the way. Luckily, I only noticed it occurring in one of the three blocks I walked past on my way to work. I just hope it wasn't too early for everyone else to have been goaded by their wives to “Go burn the trash already!”

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Only Conceivable Reason

Sanjiv: Hey, Rajiv!

Rajiv: Yes, Sanjiv?

Sanjiv: Let's sell milk!

Rajiv: ...okay...

Sanjiv: Only...we'll sell it in bags!

Rajiv: But...why?

Sanjiv: Because I hate people!

Rajiv: Brilliant!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Breakfast in the Morning

Breakfast this morning at the hotel buffet was uneventful, in my opinion. But this forum is not for me - it's for you, my ever-interested public, so write about it I shall.

It all started with the batura - everything was fine before the batura. You know how batura can be - that greasy, flexible, thin, almost diaphanous flatbread. Well, it was on offer on the buffet table, and what else was I to use to eat my egg bhurji and chola (chick peas-in-sauce)? So, though fully aware of its proclivities, I decided to add it to my plate. This course of action was going fine until, sensing that I had painstakingly piled just the right amount of both egg bhurji and chola on my fork, I'm sure, the batura got up to its old tricks again. When, for the third time, the batura refused to yield to the pressure from the tines, I knew for sure it was mocking me, and along with that knowledge came the concomitant disdain that accompanies one's realization that one is being mocked by a greasy grain-based foodstuff. I looked around, but the room was empty - it was only the batura and I, locked in a battle of wills.

It was during this cessation in the ongoing battle that is any Indian meal - an acrimonious pas de deux between my stomach's will to nourish me and my tongue's pride in its role as protector of my esophagus from progressive corrosion - that my spicy-ridden maw seized the moment and thought of the mineral water I had been promised several minutes earlier, whose arrival in my glass was being delayed because the night staff had left the cooler locked but taken the keys home with them.

Just then, a tall sikh, moving quickly and, ostensibly, purposefully, passed my table carrying a meat tenderizer. As he began to bang unapologetically upon the intractible (to the would-be intruders' minds) lock, I hastended to inform my waiter, who followed, that I was quite content with just juice.

He eased my concern be informing me that it was not just for me but, rather, for the good of all those would would come after me as well that this alternative had been decided upon.

Therefore, I felt little guilt when the hammering stopped as a large lower panel of the cooler clanked to rest on the floor. Nor did I cringe very much, and, if at all, only with a knowledge that my cringe should be shared by all those future patrons who would desire chilled beverages, when the hammering resumed and the lock was finally compromised through blunt force.

Smack, smack, smack...

However, even when I was finishing up, thinking the best part of my first meal of the day behind me, I was given the opportunity to re-evaluate my subconscious assumptions. It only makes sense, I suppose, that if a child has to be told to do something, then that thing is not natural. Some cultural norms, however, seem to be rather universally accepted as desirable - kindness to one's fellow man, for example. However, when you spend enough time in one culture, or cultures that share many values, you sometimes begin to assume, without even realizing it, that certain other behaviors are universally strived for. Chewing with one's mouth closed, just to pick one example. The opportunity I was afforded this morning of sitting next to two Chinese guys at breakfast was an assumption-busting blessing, as it slowly dawned on me that the "smack, smack, smack"ing I was hearing wasn't one unintentional mishap or anything extraordinary, but rather just the way these guys ate. I am not an expert on the Chinese language, but it sounded to my ear like Chinese, they looked Chinese, and, most convincingly, in my opinion, the accent of their "smack" was a perfect match for that of a guy I sometimes ate near in school. And he was Chinese. So, anyway, the point is that I feel liberated and thankful to these two these two men for smacking, as it were, me out of my assumption-filled rut and opening my eyes, by opening their half-masticated food-filled mouths, to the many wonderful differences in this world of ours.

Note to the reader: Before any aspersions are cast, remember that the term is "cultural stereotyper," not "racist," as my genetically Chinese friend in high school had no problem hiding the food he was gnawing from others at the table. Also note that I at no time made a judgment of the inherent morality of chewing in a viewer-friendly manner - or any value judgments on it at all, for that matter. Moreover, if I did find it in some way grating or vexing, that would really be my problem, not theirs, wouldn't it? Further, since I'm not saying that all Chinese people do this - only that those with whom I've come in contact seem to do it at a higher rate than people of other nationalities - the truly correct term would, I proffer, be "keen observer of the human condition."

Dinner in the Morning

I went to the front desk of the hotel where I was staying, hopeful but not optimistic that they'd be able to tell me where I could find some vittles at the hour of 20 past midnight. The guy at the desk made a few calls but ultimately told me nothing was available except junk food. I raised an eyebrow in a way that indicated I was neither neither stranger to nor foe of junk food. He went on to say that it may be unhygienic, which made me think he might have meant greasy fried food made in small, dirty restaurants rather than the candy bars neatly perched upon brightly lit convenience store shelves I had initially pictured. I thanked him and returned to my room to eat my bananas and see how protein powder tasted in water.

Upon reaching my room, I received a call from the front desk. The many-minded behemoth that is the staff of the K Stars hotel had been able to find a "non-junk food" restaurant open at that hour. I slipped my shoes back on and returned to the front desk, where I was told to follow a man dressed in a bellboy-type uniform with the words "K Stars" on the breast who spoke very little English. I did as instructed.

The first restaurant, right next door, turned out to be closed. We turned back and went down the street in the opposite direction, coming upon a bustling eatery whose lighting and decor made me think, for some reason, that it should be full of Arabian prostitutes. Perhaps this was because it reminded me of the dance club area of the hotel where I stayed in Morocco which, while not full of, did have a non-zero number of Arabian prostitutes.

That number was three.

I know, because there were three women.

There were no women at this restaurant, but there was food. Upon being seated, I told my escort, who, I found out, was named Laloo Pandey, that I would be fine and he could go. I was worried that he would be getting behind in his work. I tried to give him Rs 20 for his trouble. He motioned that he was fine and that I should order. I did so and tried to indicate that if he wanted to order something, he was free to, and that I would pay. He magnanimously declined.

Still, he refused to let me fend for myself.

"He must be waiting to make sure I get the food I ordered," I thought.

Seven or eight minutes later, a waiter arrived with two sets of plates, placing one set in front of me and one in front of Mr. Pandey.

"Oh," I thought, "He must not want to be rude and tell the waiter to take his plates back."

Then the waiter brought out the food I'd ordered. He began to dish it out onto Mr. Pandey's plate first.

"Oh," I thought, "He must not want to be rude. He will probably wait for the waiter to give me a portion and then add his portion to it."

The waiter placed two butter rotis (thin slightly crispy tortilla-like entities glistening in a glaze of butter) on the mini plates in front of each of us. He then took his exit.

It was then, when he made no motion to indicate that I should take the food in front of him, that I realized that that night, Laloo Pandey and I would dine together.

Which was fine, really. Even my portion of the food was more than enough. And he was considerate, ordering another helping of butter roti for us and making sure I had enough water after we had shared my first bottle.

He escorted me back to the hotel and, not only that, but also to my room, the number of which he had asked on the walk back. As we got closer to my door, I began to think, "What else do you want from me, Pandey? I've fed you. Given that, a tip seems a bit much." Would he want to quickly jump in the shower? Or catch a flick on the room's TV? I had no idea.

Luckily, when I opened the door, he made no move to enter, and I thanked him and shook his hand as he turned to leave.

I mean, I don't know what Pandey thinks of Western courting mores, but you're not gettin' into my room on the first date.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Well, just like Jack, I'm back. Except it's not the past. So I guess it's more like Sun, Ben, and Lapidus...At least so far, it's nice to be back. Six months in the U.S. and not once did a policeman I asked for directions in turn ask me for a dollar. And, failing that, Rs 10 - which can usually buy you here what $1 can buy you there. However, it happened yesterday. Then I told him how much I make, and his requests ceased - turns out he had some sense of decency after all. And that was nice, as it freed him to ask me about the cute girl walking by. "How about her?" the cop asked me. "Cute," I told him. His expression indicated he found my answer acceptable. "Do you have her number?" I asked.

He did not.

Apparently, I was a bit slow on the uptake, for it seems an out-of-the-blue inquiry of "How about her?" accompanying a finger pointed toward a girl is not an offer, nor, even, a business proposal, but, rather, indicates a request for an appraisal of how attractive the listener finds the pointee.

Other than that, while I look for a place to stay long-term, I'm in a hotel room that not only has a toilet seat, but a TV and air conditioning. Feels a little overly luxurious, but I'll be out of here soon enough, I suppose...

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